Seeking Sludge Solutions
May 15, 2014 9:09 AM   Subscribe

I have been trying to lose 5-10 pounds for three years. I have succeeded only in gaining 15. Clearly, I am either hopelessly incapable of dieting/exercising or it's physically impossible for me. As a last-ditch effort, I find myself wondering if I can just replace some or all of my meals with some kind of... nutritious slurry... without that being a detriment to my health. I feel embarrassed that I am seriously considering trying to subsist on a meal-replacing substance, but I feel a bit hopeless. Details follow.

What I've tried, at various times and in various combinations: reducing the quantity of food that I eat. Cutting out certain foods. Replacing some meals with a salad. Replacing some meals with one or two pieces of fruit. Running several times a week (couch to 5k, then 30-40ish minutes at a time). Walking 1.7 miles 4-5 times a week.

What has worked: nothing. And when I stop "dieting" for a few weeks, I tend to go up by a few pounds very quickly, and then never lose them. To be fair, I am also bad at dieting. Being actively hungry makes me feel very anxious and like I am harming my health, and I would like to lose weight but I don't hate my body so intensely that I am willing to do anything that is actually bad for me just to fit in a single-digit-size pant. Also, I work a long-hours desk job, and I'm getting to an age associated with slowing metabolism, so there are some factors working against me. I'm also unfortunately a picky eater, and don't like a lot of vegetables, so I tend to feel constrained in the choices I can make.

Since I seem to be unable to achieve my goal by controlling what I eat, and since "making good choices" is so fraught and impossible since every food is BAD FOR YOU GOOD FOR YOU SOMETHING SOMETHING VITAMINS, I have been toying with the idea of just throwing up my hands and saying fuck it, forget choosing the "right" diet, can someone just hand me a slurry of vegetables a few times a day or something?

But I am very skeptical of diet drinks and have no idea how stupid this idea is or how to evaluate different... slurries.

Is there such a thing? If so, how do I evaluate whether it's a good option for me, if my priorities (in order of importance) are (1) my health, (2) being able to work 10-13 hour days without being distracted by active hunger, (3) losing 10-15 pounds?
posted by anonymous to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
This is basically what Soylent is meant for. Do you want something you make yourself or a packaged product like this? Previously.
posted by supercres at 9:17 AM on May 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

More on Soylent here (excellent writeup). A lot of people are interested in this kind of thing, it seems, so hopefully that will help make you feel more at ease with the idea.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:36 AM on May 15, 2014

There are lots of meal-replacement shakes that you can use. Slim-Fast is still around, but now there are pre-mixed ones, some of which have fiber and stuff in them to try and make you less hungry for longer. I noticed the other day that someone even has one with caffeine in it, as a breakfast meal replacement. (Special K, maybe?)

Provided you don't snack between meals and you don't overload in your remaining traditional meal, I don't think there's anything inherently unhealthy about using them. They're just a way to get you to eat fewer calories overall; there's no real magic to them. (If you were careful about exactly what you put in, you could DIY the same thing for probably a lot less cost. But the whole idea is that you don't have to think about it.)

NutriSystem basically does the same thing but with "real food" instead of shakes; you eat their meals and only their meals, and you'll lose weight because you're reducing calories, their meals having less calories than what most people typically eat. In other words it's basically enforced portion control. I've tried their food and it's not bad; YMMV depending on what you think of vegetables, though. You can also put together a NutriSystem-like plan for yourself using Lean Cuisine meals from the freezer section, if you're careful about reading labels and stay away from the Hungry Man 5700-calories-per-box stuff.

From what you've described, what it sounds like is happening is that when you "diet", you're getting your calories down to about the break-even point. Not enough to lose weight but low enough that you're not gaining either. When you stop trying to diet, your intake probably increases, leading to weight gain, which then stays around because at best on the next cycle of dieting you get down to breakeven but not into actual weight-loss territory. I've been there and it sucks, and I don't think there are a lot of magic tricks for breaking the cycle, except to find some way that works for you of getting your calories down further, for long enough that you can actually see some results, and then it'll become self-reinforcing.

But one thing to remind yourself is that a calorie-restricted diet is not inherently unhealthy. Just because you're hungry doesn't mean that anything is wrong. That was a big mental hurdle for me when I was younger. But it's very hard not to be hungry, if you're used to eating a lot of calories, particularly on the meal-replacement type of diet plans. The meal replacement shakes and stuff are way too calorie-dense to basically have one around to drink based on whenever you're hungry; you can actually gain weight on them spectacularly quickly if you have more than the prescribed 2/day in place of meals. (I guess if you have the self-control to sip on one over the course of hours that could work, but I don't and they get nasty when warm.) I've never found a way to completely avoid being hungry when trying them.

The only useful "tricks" I've ever run across to and found helpful are:
  • to drink lots of water and/or suck on ice, in lieu of snacking, to give yourself the sensation of fullness and some of the psychological triggers of eating
  • chew gum, particularly right after eating if you're sitting around with other people who are still eating and might be tempted to eat their food (finish the plate of fries, whatever)
  • fiber supplements, which can help overcome ... issues that can occur if you suddenly decrease your food volume intake, although maybe not an issue if the meal-replacement plan you choose has fiber added (most of the newer ones do)
There are diet plans that can definitely keep you feeling full all the time while reducing calories. A few months ago on a sort of whim, I did this crazy thing, and have never felt so simultaneously stuffed and lost weight. But it also made me feel like I had a part-time job as a sous chef and was spending all my free time in the kitchen, so it's probably at the opposite end of the spectrum from what you want. At least so far, I've yet to see any processed meal-replacement that can achieve that combination of low calories and super high fiber / fullness, unfortunately.

But no harm in picking up a few types of shakes / powders from the grocery store and taste-testing them to see which are decent and leave you feeling the fullest a few hours later. A mix of types might help you stick to the plan better than just one of them anyway.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:57 AM on May 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

when I stop "dieting" for a few weeks, I tend to go up by a few pounds very quickly, and then never lose them

Just a note - you regain a few pounds very quickly for the same reason most people lose the first few pounds very quickly when they start dieting: glycogen (otherwise referred to as water weight). The only way to permanently deplete the glycogen stores in your body is to stay at a permanent strict deficit in terms of caloric intake, which is not a good idea. And this weight regain would probably occur in the same way if you were on calorie-restricted Soylent, reached your goal weight, and upped your caloric intake to maintain.
posted by littlegreen at 10:02 AM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

As someone who's struggled with her weight her whole adult life, I sympathize - this stuff is Hard!

I had a surprising amount of success with Isagenix for about a year. I didn't expect to like it, but I did, and was about 40 pounds lighter at the end of my time with them. However, as with Most things like this, it's not sustainable, at least if you like food in the long term. I can do a shake meal replacement for awhile, but as with most "diets" it gets old.

Since then I've continued to gain and loose weight, but I haven't been very tempted to finish the last of my shake mix (even though they were pretty tasty shakes). The thing I've found Most helpful and healthful has been to up my exercise and strength-building (crossfit) and to eat much lower carb and higher fat. It satisfies, I always eat when I'm hungry, and I'm fitter than ever. I'm not dieting, and that helps with the psychological part of this a lot.

So shakes can be fine! But don't surprised if you need to, at the very least, mix them up a lot over time.
posted by ldthomps at 10:08 AM on May 15, 2014

If you're willing to spend a little time, the recipes for DIY Soylent are interesting, at least.
posted by supercres at 10:09 AM on May 15, 2014

A good answer to your question appears to be Soylent, as the first two posters mentioned. I was going to recommend the recent New Yorker article, too, to which C C o'D o'D has already linked. (Based on the article, I think I would get very tired of Soylent, very quickly, even if it is nutritionally complete.)

My father couldn't eat solid food for the last year or so of his life, and his physicians recommended a combination of Ensure and blended food. One problem with many of the commercially available liquid nutrition products is that they use refined starches or simple sugars for carbohydrates, and they have a high glycemic index; my father could control his type 2 diabetes with diet and exercise when he could eat solids, but he had to start taking insulin after going on a liquid diet. Something to consider.

Littlegreen is also right that you gain a few pounds when you go off a weight-reduction diet due to replenishing glycogen stores. Your muscles store glycogen with about 4 times its weight in water, which is liberated when the glycogen is metabolized. When you're eating at a calorie deficit, your muscles store less glycogen, especially if you're not very active.

As someone who has lost nearly 55 lb. in the last 16 months, and has read a lot of how-to books, motivational literature, and online forum discussions, I will permit myself a meta-answer. Your question has a very long list of reasons why you haven't been able to lose weight, but the underlying one appears to be a fear of being hungry. There are good evolutionary reasons for that, but in a food-rich world, it's maladaptive. Two things I've learned since January 2013: first, eating at a calorie deficit is going to make you hungry at times, even if you choose fiber-rich, nutrient-dense, calorie-poor foods, and eat lots of protein and healthy fats. Second, after three or four weeks of eating at a reasonable calorie deficit (500-750/day), the hunger becomes much more manageable.

Finally, exercise: by itself, it won't help you lose weight, as a couple longitudinal studies of health-care professionals have shown. (See this study, but note that the abstract erroneously states a correlation between physical activity and weight change; the correlation is with increased activity and weight loss, but you obviously can't keep increasing your activity forever....) But exercise ameliorates many of the health problems associated with aging, and it allows you to eat more while still maintaining a reasonable calorie deficit. When I started, I could eat 1500 calories a day if I was sedentary, but if I biked to and from work (30 minutes) instead of driving, and did another 30 minutes of moderately intense running or cycling, I could eat 2000 calories. I felt a lot more satisfied at 2000. And the exercise has helped ensure that as I lost weight, I retained most of my muscle mass, instead of just becoming a skinny but flabby guy.
posted by brianogilvie at 10:22 AM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I understand you are looking for liquid diet and my answer won't help in that respect. However, I'll share with you what I know and what worked for me.

I tried dieting and intermittent exercise but had very underwhelming and short lived results. My diet plans were failing me since the will can only fight so much constant feeling of hunger. I read as much as I could and found that :
1. Liquid foods have very low satiety compared to solid foods of same calories and
2. Carbs(sugars) have very low satiety compared to fats of lower calories.

Based on further reading, I settled on a low carb (less than 30g per day) diet and was able to lose 25 lbs without exercise over a period of 6 months. I am not as religious with my carb intake but still mindful and have been working out intermittently. So far, I've been able to maintain my lowest weight with a margin of 3 lbs . (Started at 205, reached 180 . now 180-183. I'm male, early 30s)

This is not to say it's a slam dunk. It worked for me because I like all vegetables and all meats. I do have an incorrigible sweet tooth but it's far easier to resist sweets when you are full (owing to loading up on fats). Good luck!
posted by savitarka at 10:26 AM on May 15, 2014

I think an important factor is that Soylent and related products are not necessarily good for you-- they haven't been tested, it's a brand new concept, &c. They could easily fall into the GOOD FOR YOU BAD FOR YOU YADDA YADDA VITAMINS category.

Have you tried building muscle? If you go on a low carb diet (slurry or no), go running, and try to build muscle with strength training... that's the holy trinity. It still might not work for you, I don't know your health or your body, but often times people try to lose weight with JUST cardio and they end up not changing their body fat percentage at all. I've lost weight with cardio, but I didn't look that great afterward, I was still squishy in all the same places just smaller.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:42 AM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dieting won't work unless you make sure that you are accurately accounting for everything you eat.

Accurately count calories. Invest in a kitchen scale, do not rely on estimations or volume. Meal replacement shakes, like anything else, will only work if you are eating a calorie deficit. So unless you are going to swap all meals for some kind of shake, you need to learn how to properly account for what you are eating.

Part of the problem with dieting, is that if you lose some weight, your body actually requires LESS calories to maintain weight that it did when you were heavier--so if you go back to your exact same diet you were eating when you were maintaining a heavier weight, you will gain it back.
posted by inertia at 12:13 PM on May 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

If I were you, I'd look into intermittent fasting, or fasting in general.

My current regimen involves fasting from dinner to dinner every weekday and eating normally on the weekends.

The diet on the weekdays is generally very clean - i.e. paleo-ish. Weekends are a free for all kinda deal.

In the last 2.5 months, I've lost 27 pounds of fat and 19 pounds of weight.
posted by rippersid at 12:14 PM on May 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Respectfully, diet drinks and points systems are clinically proven ways to lose weight that involve a moronic approach towards food.

I've struggled with losing weight, I can relate to your situation a lot, and to someone in your position I would, along with light exercise, suggest reading about intermittent fasting, or in other words, committing to a feeding window. It's helped me drop 24 pounds in 4 months (65 total). The incontrovertible fact is that people lost weight before "complex designer diet foods" existed, and they generally did it by eating less. This is, naturally, the one thing the food industry does not tell you to do.

If you're up for a cleanse, I also suggest the Quantum Cleanse, which was simply recommended to me by a friend. It's basically a vegan diet, but it really helped me figure out how over-reliant I had become on complicated, synthetic, sugary bullshit by forcing me to cut those things out and look for alternatives.

Something as simple as restricting my caloric intake to between the hours of 12-8pm has led to increased energy levels and provided me with the daily structure necessary to combat "the sludge." It's basically a fun game at this point.

Real weight loss is about a major lifestyle change which can involve self-love, self-acceptance, and making good decisions on a daily basis, and it will take your mind and body some getting used to. If you learn how to eat, you'll still be able to have cheat days and generally head in a better direction.
posted by phaedon at 12:20 PM on May 15, 2014

The major "problem" with Soylent is that it is not classified as a food, but as a supplement - thus it does not fall under much control at all. Also, I have my personal doubts that it was developed as scientifically rigorously than many, many studies of dieting. But hey, I'm a scientist, it's what I worry about. Apparently now they have a nutrition label so that's...something, but still, if you have trouble limiting your diet, this chalky thing will be the ONLY thing you're allowing yourself to eat or drink. Is that going to really work for a longer length of time?

I unno, I made the call a few weeks ago that I was sick of trying just calorie restriction to lose weight. Eating only 1200cal a day was making me angry and hungry and just a generally annoyed, sleepy person. When I'm pissed, I stop caring and go and grab that pizza slice once a week. That alone was enough to tip me back to the higher end and I've spent YEARS between 160-170 lb. I can eat whatever I want to satiation and sit at 165-166. WHY am I torturing myself to stall out at 160 anyway?

So I made the call - do I prefer bacon or bread? Went on a very low-carb (20g/day net carb, commonly known as "keto") diet. Two weeks later, eating bacon, cheese, avocados, and pork rinds without calorie counting - I broke my stall and I'm at 157. For the first time in YEARS.
Sugar free foods, which used to taste bitter and gross, taste sweet to me for the first time. (Actually makes me a little sad, because I liked Coke Zero before and now it is too sweet for me.) I don't crave bread particularly, but if someone offers me a donut, I turn it down because I think of the bacon and steak and...bacon wrapped steak....that I can eat later.

Maybe I won't stick with it. Maybe I will. But for the first time in a while, I wake up naturally at 6am, I'm not starving by 10am, and I don't need my 4pm nap. My energy levels have totally normalized. I still laugh when I prepare my "diet food" beside my fiance's vegetarian meals. HE'S lost weight because while he isn't on the diet, there are just naturally less carbs in the house and we don't go out as much. Suffice it to say, do some research first. It's got some good scientific backing in some respects, but there IS some sketchy "broscience" as well and there are a few things you need to be aware of when you do it (mostly with respect to electrolyte replenishment, water intake, and fiber). BUT, keto may not be for you! It IS a fairly restrictive diet, just restrictive in a way that some people are happy to do and for others, it may be a major problem. Some bodies may operate on it better than others - that's one of the sketchier broscience aspects that I am at least a bit wary of (as in - everyone obviously will do awesome on this, ban sugar!). I believe that everyone has slightly different requirements which is why I think both no diet fits everyone, nor is soylent necessarily going to work for everyone.

I just don't see limiting yourself to a single item to drink everyday as a sustainable solution, and diets need to be sustainable or you just gain it all back as you've noticed.
posted by aggyface at 12:29 PM on May 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

This article discusses why diets so rarely work.
posted by metasarah at 12:44 PM on May 15, 2014

I was once in a similar situation, read the book "Breaking Out of Food Jail" by Jean Antonello (for some reason Amazon link isn't working) and it changed my life forever. For real. It's the opposite of a liquid diet -- it just tells you to eat food (you're hungry!!!) I lost a ton of weight and I seriously never diet anymore and my mind is free of calorie counts. Not perhaps the answer you're looking for (and it takes time and trust to work) but I always recommend it.
posted by EtTuHealy at 3:27 PM on May 15, 2014

Seconding the fasting idea. I did the 5/2 Fast Diet (2 days "fast" 5 days eat whatever). I lost 20 pounds in six months or so... And it was stupid easy. Switched to 6/1 for maintenance.

At least give it a try for a few weeks before you start with the slurry.
posted by notyou at 10:29 PM on May 15, 2014

I've spent the last 7 years doing basic science research in a group focused on obesity prevention. From what I've seen, both in the lab and in the literature, I think your absolute best bet is to do a combination of things: first and foremost, talk to a nutritionist. Not your general practicioner doctor, not anyone on the internet, not someone selling a book - speak with someone who has an advanced degree in human nutrition and has spent time working with persons trying to control weight using non-surgical methods. Your diet solution needs to be tailored to you, specifically, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Talk to a fitness trainer, someone employed at a decent gym, about how to build a simple strength and cardio regimen that you can keep up on your own, with minimal equipment. And talk to your own employer, asking specifically about transitioning to a sit-stand desk. You can exercise all you want, but the latest research shows pretty darn conclusively that exercising more is not as beneficial as simply sitting less. Standing desks are expensive, but the clamp-on stands that allow you to raise your monitor and keyboard to a comfortable standing height whenever desired are not that bad. You might even be able to sell the idea to your employer as a cost-saver for the company as a whole, reducing health insurance outlays for the entire staff by encouraging healthier work habits.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:41 AM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

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